While many people believe that sciatica is a disease, it is actually a symptom of an underlying ailment. The actual medical issue that causes sciatica can be spondylolisthesis, spinal stenosis, piriformis syndrome or a slipped or herniated disc that puts pressure on the root of the sciatic nerve. All of these create what is known as a pinched nerve, and this is what causes sciatica.
No matter what causes the pinched nerve that results in sciatica, the condition can be debilitating. It results in chronic pain that can make it almost impossible to stand or sit. People with sciatica experience intense lower back pain. The worst part is generally leg pain, and individuals may feel tingling sensations, burning, numbness and weakness in their legs. Luckily, there are a number of things that people can do to heal sciatic nerve pain, and many of them are simple and noninvasive.
Exercise and Physical Therapy
The first thing that doctors will generally recommend for sciatic pain relief is exercise and physical therapy. Though this may seem like the last thing that a person who is suffering from intense pain would want to do, it can provide significant benefits. People with serious sciatica often spend their days lying in bed as this is the only position where they feel comfortable. However, exercise can help in eliminating the chemicals that cause inflammation by increasing blood flow to the nerve and disc.
There are a number of different exercises that people with sciatica can do without causing too much discomfort. The most obvious is to try going on short walks. If this is too much, swimming may be a good idea as there is not as much pressure on the back when a person is in the water. Physical therapists can also develop a personalized series of stretching exercises that will help stabilize the spine, strengthen core muscles and restore back flexibility
Individuals who suffer sciatica caused by spinal stenosis or a herniated disc can often benefit from surgery. With this sciatic nerve treatment, the type of surgery performed will depend on the root cause of the person’s pain. In cases of spinal stenosis, a surgeon will remove the part of the bone that is pressing on the sciatic nerve. A section of the posterior arch is surgically removed in those with herniated discs. This relieves pressure put on pinched nerve tissue and can greatly reduce pain. However, a surgical approach is only beneficial for those whose sciatica pain stems from spinal stenosis or a herniated disc.
Epidural Steroid Injections
If people experience pain that does not get better after about a month, they can have steroids epidurally injected near the sciatic nerve. However, these injections can cause a loss of bone density and are themselves painful. Because of this, doctors will not generally administer these injections more than three times per year.
Muscle Relaxants and Pain Relievers
Over the counter pain relievers and prescription muscle relaxant medications can help reduce pain caused by sciatica. However, people should keep in mind that these will do nothing to help in relieving pressure on the sciatic nerve that is the real root cause of the problem.
Heat or Ice
Heat and cold therapy does not penetrate deep enough into the body in order to counteract inflammation. However, heating pads and ice packs essentially distract the body by adding input into the area that is experiencing pain. This can be good for temporary relief.
There are several topical anti-inflammatory preparations that can be great for reducing sciatica pain. Capsaicin is a compound found in peppers that can be used to treat inflammation. It is the main ingredient in both prescription and over the counter patches that can be applied directly to the affected area. Some of them are so effective that they can last for weeks. St. John’s wort oil is also useful, but it must be applied several times per day.
While people generally think that a massage should be relaxing, trigger-point therapy massages for sciatica pain are definitely not. With this, pressure is applied directly to the irritated areas. Ideally, this should relieve tension in the sciatic nerve and cause the pain to subside. However, this treatment is not effective for everyone, and those who do not experience a reduction in pain after a few sessions should look for another option.
Yoga may be one of the most effective non-surgical ways to relieve sciatic nerve pain. Individuals who perform Iyengar yoga, a type of yoga where people stay in a single position for an extended amount of time, see a significant reduction in disability and pain after a few months of regular practice. People who are suffering from sciatica should keep in mind that only gentle forms of yoga are appropriate for them. However, improving flexibility and strengthening muscles by doing yoga can be extremely beneficial in reducing pain in the long run.
Acupuncture can be of great help for people who are suffering from sciatica. It can assist in promoting sciatic nerve regeneration in addition to increasing noradrenaline and serotonin levels that aid in pain reduction. Acupuncture treatment can also reduce inflammation and improve joint mobility and muscle stiffness that helps disperse swelling.
Another very effective form of sciatica treatment is spinal manipulation from a chiropractor. In fact, the majority of sciatica sufferers who did not experience relief from other forms of treatment see the same amount of improvement as those who had surgery after regular visits to a chiropractor. In addition, the effects that they experienced lasted for a significant amount of time even after they stopped going to the chiropractor on a regular basis.
The Bottom Line
There is no single treatment that will work effectively to treat each individual’s sciatica pain. With this, the best way to obtain relief is through trial and error. People who are suffering from sciatica-related pain should start with a treatment modality that is most appealing to them and see how much it helps.
If the original treatment option does not work, they can switch to another and see if it does any better. By systematically going through both traditional and alternative treatments, anyone who is experiencing sciatica pain will be able to achieve some amount of relief. In fact, many people can experience life without sciatica pain once they have found the right way to manage their condition.